Elimination first option, SDHB says

Michael Butchard
Michael Butchard
Southern public health staff will take an elimination-first approach should Covid-19 emerge in Otago and Southland over Christmas.

Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Michael Butchard said in many ways confirmation the South Island would start the new traffic light system in Orange and stay there until at least January would make little difference to health staff.

"I think it helps businesses and the public, but in terms of Public Health South and what we do, I think that it does not make as much difference for us because what we are doing on the one hand is still helping out Auckland on its Delta case investigations and helping its contact-tracing team.

"On the other hand is the big uncertainty of when we will get a case in our region — we all know that is a matter of when and not if — but we need to be prepared for that and for us that is when things will change."

Should that happen, southern staff would switch from managing northern cases to investigating southern ones, with the aim of eliminating the disease, Dr Butchard said.

Orange had meant the cancellation of non-ticketed major events such as New Year’s Eve gatherings, but organisers of several large-scale southern summer events were still assessing if they could go ahead as planned.

"From a public health perspective I’m not going to proffer a view on whether those events should go ahead or not," Dr Butchard said.

"I think there is an element that Covid is with us and here to stay and we need to learn to live with it ...

"We are prepared for the increased risk if the organisers of those ticketed events decide to proceed. We realise that increases our risk for having cases, and it probably also increases the risk of spread but we are prepared for case investigation and contact tracing."

Southern health staff were tired and needed a well-deserved summer break, but a full team would still be at work over that time.

"Prior to Covid there was always a seven-day roster, but over the weekend there might only be three staff rostered on.

"Now we have a full team helping Auckland on both Saturday and Sunday and that might mean we might have up to a dozen people working.

"It is a challenge to maintain that and the staff have done that on a voluntary basis out of goodwill and we do still have that system to tide us over the holiday period," Dr Butchard said.

"We’re certainly not shutting down, and we always have a medical officer of health on."

WellSouth would also be on call to set up pop-up testing and GPs would still offer their routine testing service.

Vaccination remained the key defence.

"If people have been weighing up the pros and cons of getting vaccinated, I would ask them to not forget the side of the ledger of the harms of Covid ... if you balance those two things then it is very clear that you are better off being vaccinated when Covid comes around, because it will."